1996 - R - 98 Mins.
|Director: Joel Coen|
|Producer: Ethan Coen|
|Written By: Joel and Ethan Coen|
|Starring: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi |
|Review by: John Ulmer
There are a great many reasons for the extraordinary success of "Fargo." One of the reasons is the uproar it caused upon release when nosy little reporters found out it was not really based on true events like the disclaimer says at the beginning of the film. Then there was the tragedy of the Japanese woman who went looking for the buried stash of money and froze to death. The press had, what movie characters always call, a "field day" with this story. They overlooked the fact that she had left behind a suicide note and was informed by police the story was false upon arrival in Minnesota, where she was picked up by a worried police officer. She had a death wish.
And the other reason for success is, of course, because the movie is one of the best of all films--a true "story" if ever there was one. It's more than a scathing social satire, more than a dark comedy, more than a great drama with a fabulous story filled with irony and coincedences and morals and so on and so forth. It's more than a great movie. It's superb.
Marge Gunderson has become a sort of cultural character. People quote her like the Terminator or Charles Foster Kane or George Bailey or Darth Vader. She's so famous that I do not think many people realize Marge essentially comes in around forty minutes into the 98-minute movie. Yet that's what people think of when they hear the word "Fargo"--Marge Gunderson--and so it just shows what an impact a film like "Fargo" made. And not only impact, but the remembrance of characters we love to remember.
Marge provides a sort of balance between the wild and the crazy. She is the moral character of the story who juggles the two and tries to keep them from falling. When the film starts to get violent or ironic Marge steps in to sort out the mess. The Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel, obviously have a firm grasp on the actuality of storytelling as opposed to filmmakers who can simply put a story on screen--ignoring whether it provides any sort of actual storytelling at all.
I think we all remember the first moment Marge wakes up in bed and receives the phone call. She drives out to the barren, frosty highway with a view of Minnesota that stretches for miles, and investigates the crime scene of a most brutal murder. Three people haev been murdered: A cop, and two passersby. The villain(s)? Unknown. (Regarding the killer: "And by the size of his feet he looks like a big fella'!")
The murders were, of course, all coincedental, having to do with a simple yet oddly complex plot: Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) has debts he is unable to pay, so he hires two crooks, Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaeur (Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife, Jean (Kristin Rudrud). Unfortunately, their plan did not go to...er...plan, and they had to kill three people along the way.
The point where Gauer shoots the police officer who has pulled the men over for not displaying the proper tags on their vehicle is funny. And yet when you really think about it, that scene shouldn't be funny at all. But it is. The Coen Brothers know how to make it funny. They are like experts of the dark humor--when Carl says, "Whoa, Daddy!" and has that speckle of blood on his face, I always burst out in laughter. It sounds sick, but strangely, it isn't.
The dialogue in "Fargo" is just as excellent as the film's twisty little plot. Frances McDormand rightfully won an Oscar for her portrayal of Marge Gunderson. She speaks with the perfect accent of, what the Coen Brothers call, the language "Minnesota Nice"--where people are always cheery, even when they're being mean. It's just something inbred into citizens of Minnesota. And even when the worst things are happening to characters, you're smiling, because who doesn't love to hear, "Gee, golly, gee whiz," throughout a movie, and who doesn't think it's funny?
"Fargo" is the type of film you can watch over and over. Sometimes I think to myself that I'm just going to watch a scene or two, but as soon as the credits start the film has my interest and never lets go. It's the odd sort of delightful little film that keeps the viewer's interest for the first time up through the fiftieth time and beyond.
The film's plot takes twist after twist and we can identify ever so much with the character of Jerry as all his well-thought-out plans go to waste, causing his debt to become even worse and his life even more ruined than it already is. Steve Buscemi, as Carl, is just as much a scene-stealer as Marge Gunderson (I love to type that name), and Jerry is just as much a lovable character as someone who hasn't hired two crooks to kidnap his wife. That's the secret to "Fargo"--or at least part of the secret. We like the characters, simply because we know they don't really mean any harm. Harm just happens to find them.